Video: Grand designs on a house that’s forever a church

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HOUSE restoration entrepreneur Faye Parker is taking on her toughest challenge yet - turning a disused church into a home but without moving any of the ecclesiastical or historical features.

Four years ago the 32-year-old property developer took a gamble when she paid £40,000 at auction for a crumbling church plagued by rot, damp and vandals.

Faye Parker in the United Reformed Church, Mirfield.

Faye Parker in the United Reformed Church, Mirfield.

She hadn’t even stepped into the building when she decided to bid for it. The former Hopton United Reformed Church at Mirfield, West Yorkshire, was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register and had an uncertain future.

Now, 10 months after she began the huge renovation job, the fruits of her labours and investment are beginning to show.

The first job was laying a path to the memorial garden so that members of the public could visit the graveyard and garden.

Then she got planning permission for 11 houses on the site, the sale of which will help pay the hefty renovation and repair costs.

Just making the building water-tight and safe has cost in the region of £100,000 and restoring the 21 sash windows cost around £1,000 apiece but Miss Parker is determined to see the project through.

By next summer she is hoping to be living in the old church with her rescue dogs, Liffey and Squirt.

“Every time I come in here I fall more in love with this place,” she says.

“I have got through the worst bits now it is watertight and the building is saved. It looks better and smells better, there is no smell of damp like before.

“My main priorities were getting the windows in and getting rot out and making the roof stable. Now I am putting in drains and electrics for the chapel and 11 houses.”

Miss Parker, who lives at Horbury, Wakefield, employed an architect to draw up her vision for the place which she believes will make the property unique in Britain.

Other developers who have taken on old churches have had to remove features such as pews but she is adamant that everything inside will remain untouched - including box pews, a very grand organ, pulpit, original windows and war memorial plaque.

“It will be a first in the UK not to remove historical features. Some of the pews will be used to create a cinema room. I am trying to show it has a viable use but without damaging any historical features - this has not been done before.”

Her designs for the finished property include ‘floating floors’ which will allow features such as pews to remain open to view.

Extensive use of glass and a central staircase will ensure “panoramic views”, she adds.

The project has already caught the eye of the producers of TV show Restoration Man and she recently appeared on stage at the Grand Designs Live event.

The overall design, she says, is a “weird concept” which is not easy to visualise.

“I think that is why it caught the imagination of TV. It’s a bit unbelievable - you have to be passionate and a bit mad about a building like this.”

Although she has always worked in property, and owns her own estate agency, the chapel project is by the biggest to date and, she admits, it is a “make or break” scheme.

“This is a major challenge; it was always going to be make or break (because of) the amounts put in. I bought it for £40,000 and spent £40,000 on security and emptying it. You do have to have initial capital for these buildings.

“The sheer size of this is nothing like I have done before.”

She is looking forward to seeing her new home taking shape once the builders, joiners, plumbers and electricians have finished their work.

“I will get a sense of self achievement in that I will know that I have done it myself, from start to finish.

“They called me Restoration Woman (at the TV live event) which I was really pleased about. It shows that women can do this as well. Women can take on these projects.”